As journalists, we may wonder at times about the impact our work has in our communities. The potential significance of that impact, however, was highlighted for us at Postmedia Calgary (the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun) and Postmedia Edmonton (the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun) last fall.
We published a series of stories about organ donation and there, in the comments section of one of the stories posted online, we saw a reader offering to donate a kidney to one of the individuals who had been profiled in that story and was on a transplant waiting list.
The impact of the story was potentially life changing and life saving, along with being an acute reminder that what we do as journalists matters.
In Canada, 2,800 organ transplants occur each year. However, another 4,500 people are left waiting for an organ. More than 600 people die each year waiting for an organ or are removed from the wait list because they become too sick — a de facto death sentence.
Polls show nine in 10 people support the idea of organ donation, but only two in 10 sign donor cards. So, Postmedia Calgary and Postmedia Edmonton tackled this subject as a major journalistic endeavour and community service campaign in 2019, working with agencies that oversee and promote organ donation.
The result was the project Gifts of Life.
30 Days, 30 Faces
For this project, we wanted to benefit the community by:
- Drawing attention to the need for increased organ donation.
- Putting human faces on the problem and reframe how people view organ donation.
- Generating awareness of organisations that promote organ donation.
- Educating people on how they can make a difference.
- Inspiring action or even political change.
On each day of November, we published a piece of content that explored this issue, informed the public interest, and raised awareness. To do so, a team of 22 Postmedia employees in Calgary and Edmonton — along with support from the Postmedia Editorial Services central editing team in Ontario — worked on the project over a period of three months.
The marketing team ran ads promoting organ donation and the project. We partnered with a number of organisations involved in organ donation to ensure we delivered accurate and compelling messages.
On each of the five Fridays of the month, we published a compelling print package in all four of our daily newspapers, packed with stories, photos, graphics, and analysis.
On each of the 30 days of the month, we focused on a portion of the project called 30 Days, 30 Faces. We showed the “faces” of organ donation — people waiting for an organ, people who’d received an organ, people who donated an organ, and people who’d agreed to donate a family member’s organs. The goal was to publish a related Facebook post, Instagram story, tweet, online graphic, or other piece of content digitally every day of November.
We also published guest posts, columns, and comments, while writing an in-house OpEd on the need for change. This OpEd anchored an Opinion page at the end of the project with an entire focus on organ donation.
Along the way, we also provided information on numerous ways that anyone can become involved in organ donation and, importantly, invited the community to share their stories. The impact we witnessed was rewarding for all who worked on the project:
- Halfway through the project, a local politician introduced a bill that moves the province toward an opt-out programme, in which adults are presumed organ donors.
- Also in November, a Canadian politician announced he was re-introducing a bill that adds an organ donation question on tax forms.
- Interaction with our communities increased. Dozens responded to our callout for stories, and we told the stories of people such as a woman who donated part of her liver to a co-worker’s daughter and a truck driver who gave a kidney to a stranger after seeing a desperate billboard plea.
The project caused an explosion of interest on the topic. As one Canadian Blood Services executive said, “Social media blew up for almost 10 days with countless shares and comments ... across the country.”
A Kidney Foundation spokeswoman thanked us for standing up to “make a difference, impact change and save lives,” adding: “I know you will help to impact many lives.”